Monthly Archives: July 2019

Perfect Pairing – heads to the Countryside

As the temperatures have been soaring throughout much of the US, I think it’s time to leave the city and head to the countryside!

 

Hey, Hey, Hay! A Tale of Bales and the Machines that Make Them

Author: Christy Mihaly

Illustrator: Joe Cepeda

Publisher/Date: Holiday House Publishing Inc./2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: hay, farm life, girl power, seasons, rhyming

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Every bale of hay has a little bit of summer sun stored in the heart of it— learn from a mother-daughter team how hay is made! 

Feeding her horses one cold and wintry day, a girl thinks about all the hard work that went into the fresh-smelling bales she’s using. The rhyming text and brilliant full-page paintings follow the girl and her mother through the summer as they cut, spread, dry and bale in the fields.

Mower blades slice through the grass./A new row falls with every pass./Next we spread the grass to dry./The tedder makes those grasses fly!

This celebration of summer, farming, and family, illustrated by Pura Belpré honor artist Joe Cepeda, includes a glossary of haymaking words, and a recipe for making your own switchel— a traditional farm drink, to cool you down in the summer heat.

Read a review at Picture Books Help Kids Soar.

Mowing

Author: Jessie Haas

Illustrator: Jos. A. Smith

Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books/1994

Ages: 4-8

Themes: hay, farm life, intergenerational, wildlife

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Nora helps her grandfather mow the field by watching for little animals in the tall grass and warning him to circle the horses and mowing machine around them.

Read a review at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog.

I paired these books because both provide insight into farm life and an essential activity on many farms, and they both feature female main characters. Told from the first-person point-of-view, the recently-published Hey, Hey, Hay! provides information on the process of baling hay and the seasons on a farm, all in lyrical, rhyming text. The older Mowing focuses on one day when young Nora and her grandfather cut the hay, while making sure they don’t harm any of the local wildlife. Read together, I think they provide insight into life on a farm, something many of us have not experienced.

PPBF – Sing, Don’t Cry

I was privileged to view spreads from today’s Perfect Picture Book at the Highlights Foundation earlier this week, as the Foundation is featuring them in a Visual Artist Exhibition this year. When I saw the artwork in the Barn, the main gathering spot, I just had to purchase and review this uplifting book.

Title: Sing, Don’t Cry

Written & Illustrated By: Angela Dominguez

Publisher/Date: Henry Holt and Company/2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: intergenerational, family, Latinx, music

Opening:

Once a year, my abuelo would come from Mexico to stay with us.

Brief Synopsis:

Based on visits with the author/illustrator’s own Mexican grandfather, this story explores the loving relationship between the narrator, a young child, and her or his musical abuelo.

Links to Resources:

  • Ask family members to share favorite songs, and enjoy a sing-a-long;
  • Learn about and listen to some mariachi music.

Why I Like this Book:

Sing, Don’t Cry is a book filled with music, optimism, and love. It’s clear from the smiling faces on the first spread, that the two children, a young brother and sister, love their grandfather and have looked forward to his visit. Dominguez includes examples of things going wrong that are very kid-relatable: moving, a lost toy, unkind school mates, and an injury that precludes participating in a sport. But their abuelo reminds them that singing can help them overcome sadness, and that things will get better. I love this positive attitude, and I especially appreciate the loving intergenerational relationship portrayed.

The smiling faces throughout the book made me smile as I read it. I also noticed that the colors in the sad scenes were muted, to make a clear distinction between the times when bad or sad things happened, and the happy, hopeful reminder that singing will make things better.

A Note about Craft:

From the jacket flap and in an Author’s Note, readers learn that this story is based on Dominguez’ own abuelo, Apolinar Navarrete Diaz, a Mexican musician who performed on the radio in the 1940s. I think by basing the character on a real person that she knows, Dominguez is better able to bring him to life. Dominguez also shares that the title and story are inspired by the refrain in a popular Mexican song, an aspect of the story that celebrates Mexican culture.

Sing, Don’t Cry features two unnamed siblings. Dominguez uses first person point-of-view, but it’s never clear whether the narrator is the young girl or boy. I think this broadens the market for this picture book, as it will appeal to boys and girls equally.

Visit Dominguez’ website to see more of her books.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing of African-American Heroes

Regular readers may notice a theme these past few weeks – I’ve been reading, and featuring, many picture book biographies. Not only do I enjoy learning about the past through these informative picture books, but I’m reading to learn more about the genre as I research and write picture book biographies, too. And as you read this, I’m attending a Highlights Foundation non-fiction master class with, among others, the author of these two fascinating biographies.

Before She Was Harriet

Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome

Illustrator: James E. Ransome

Publisher/Date: Holiday House Publishing, Inc./2017

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, African-American history, women’s history, slavery, underground railroad

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A lush and lyrical biography of Harriet Tubman, written in verse and illustrated by an award-winning artist.
We know her today as Harriet Tubman, but in her lifetime she was called by many names. As General Tubman she was a Union spy. As Moses she led hundreds to freedom on the Underground Railroad. As Minty she was a slave whose spirit could not be broken. An evocative poem and opulent watercolors come together to honor a woman of humble origins whose courage and compassion make her larger than life.
A Junior Library Guild Selection

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

 

Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass

Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome

Illustrator: James E. Ransome

Publisher/Date: A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/2012

Ages: 5-8

Themes: biography, African-American history, slavery, literacy

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The inspirational, true story of how Frederick Douglass found his way to freedom one word at a time.
This picture book biography chronicles the youth of Frederick Douglass, one of the most prominent African American figures in American history. Douglass spent his life advocating for the equality of all, and it was through reading that he was able to stand up for himself and others. Award-winning husband-wife team Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome present a moving and captivating look at the young life of the inspirational man who said, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

Read a review at Kirkus Reviews.

I paired these books because they are biographies of two famous 19th century African-Americans who escaped slavery and worked to abolish it. Although written by the same author, their stories are shared in very different ways. In Before She Was Harriet, Cline-Ransome relates the life of Harriet Tubman in verse, in reverse chronological order, beginning, and ending, at old age. Cline-Ransome utilizes names, titles and roles to describe Harriet during the distinct phases of her life in this life-spanning biography. In Words Set Me Free, Cline-Ransome uses first-person point-of-view to recount a short period in the life of Frederick Douglass, when he learned to read and shared that skill with fellow slaves. Despite the different approaches, both picture books reveal pivotal moments in the lives of these iconic figures.

 

PPBF – Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights

As I was preparing this post, I couldn’t help but think of the ticker-tape parade occurring just a few miles or so (as the seagulls fly) from my home. The feting of the world champion US women’s soccer team included not just a celebration but a call for equal pay for female soccer players and the recognition by these athletes that they could use their success to advocate for social good. While I have no evidence that these women read today’s Perfect Picture Book, I have every reason to believe that they would support its message.

Title: Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights

Written By: Rob Sanders

Illustrated By: Jared Andrew Schorr

Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: protest, equal rights, concept book, multicultural

Opening:

Assemble. Take action. Create allies.

Brief Synopsis:

A concept book that explores the various ways to fight peacefully for equal rights.

Links to Resources:

  • Make a banner or sign to show an idea that you support or that you want to protest;
  • Think of three things that you and your family or classroom can do to help the environment, support a favorite cause, or welcome a refugee;
  • Download the Educator’s Guide to discover more ideas.

Why I Like this Book:

From A to Z, Sanders provides concrete examples of ways to advocate peacefully for equal rights. With short but lyrical text, Sanders prompts young readers to ask questions, become informed, and take action for what they believe. I love the many verbs used that encourage action. I also love that so many options are offered, including giving time, having hope (and being hope), praying, and voting, among many, many others. Finally, I love that the vocabulary stretches young listeners, especially as there’s a comprehensive Glossary with pronunciation guide, so that children can learn the language of protest. A note about the history of Peaceful Protests rounds out this wonderful concept book that will have families and classrooms excited to take positive action.

Schorr’s cut-paper illustrations are vibrant and add so much context to the sparse text. I found the two-page spreads with one word or phrase particularly powerful, especially “unite” with its many hands of varying hues raised in peace signs.

A Note about Craft:

A book about taking action should leave its readers and listeners ready to take action, but how does an author do that? I think with his sparse text, in short, choppy sentences, all starting with verbs, Sanders encourages people to get up and do something. The low word count also has the effect of leaving space for the illustrator, which Schorr utilizes to include a wide range of diverse characters and cultural and historical references that adults will appreciate and enjoy sharing with youngsters.

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing – of Artist Biographies

I love reading biographies, and when they feature the lives of artists, including illustrations that mimic the work of artists, they’re beautiful to read, too.

Out of this World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington

Author: Michelle Markel

Illustrator: Amanda Hall

Publisher/Date: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers/2019

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, female artist, surrealism, refugee

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Ever since she was a little girl, Leonora Carrington loved to draw on walls, in books, on paper—and she loved the fantastic tales her grandmother told that took her to worlds that shimmered beyond this one, where legends became real.

Leonora’s parents wanted her to become a proper English lady, but there was only one thing she wanted, even if it was unsuitable: to become an artist. In London, she discovered a group of artists called surrealists, who were stunning the world with their mysterious creations. This was the kind of art she had to make. This was the kind of person she had to be.

From life in Paris creating art alongside Max Ernst to Mexico, where she met Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Leonora’s life became intertwined with the powerful events and people that shaped the twentieth century.

Out of This World is the fascinating and stunningly illustrated story of Leonora Carrington, a girl who made art out of her imagination and created some of the most enigmatic and startling works of the last eighty years.

Read my review.

Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall’s Life and Art

Author: Barb Rosenstock

Illustrator: Mary Grandpré

Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, modern art, refugee, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A gorgeous, expressive picture-book biography of Marc Chagall by the Caldecott Honor team behind The Noisy Paint Box.

Through the window, the student sees . . .
His future–butcher, baker, blacksmith, but turns away.
A classmate sketching a face from a book. His mind blossoms.
The power of pictures. He draws and erases, dreams in color while Papa worries.
A folder of pages laid on an art teacher’s desk. Mama asks, Does this boy have talent?
Pursed lips, a shrug, then a nod, and a new artist is welcomed. 
His brave heart flying through the streets, on a journey unknowable.

Known for both his paintings and stained-glass windows, Marc Chagall rose from humble beginnings to become one of the world’s most renowned artists. Admired for his use of color and the powerful emotion in his work, Chagall led a career that spanned decades and continents, and he never stopped growing. This lyrical narrative shows readers, through many different windows, the pre-WWI childhood and wartime experiences that shaped Chagall’s path.

From the same team behind the Caldecott Honor Book The Noisy Paint Box, which was about the artist Kandinksy, Through the Window is a stunning book that, through Chagall’s life and work, demonstrates how art has the power to be revolutionary.

Read my review.

I paired these books because both feature artists who defied familial and societal expectations to fulfill their dreams of creating gorgeous art. They also both left their homelands to achieve artistic success. And while readers may be more familiar with the work of Marc Chagall, Leonora Carrington was a gifted artist whose work remains popular today.

Looking for similar reads?

See, Vincent Can’t Sleep: Van Gogh Paints the Night Sky (Rosenstock/GrandPré, 2017), The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art (Rosenstock/GrandPré, 2014).

PPBF – Out of this World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington

When I read a recent article about the subject of today’s Perfect Picture Book and realized that she, like so many other artists, fled Europe and the Nazis during World War II, I knew that I had to find, and review, this new picture book biography.

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Title: Out of this World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington

Written By: Michelle Markel

Illustrated By: Amanda Hall

Publisher/Date: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers/2019

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: biography, female artist, surrealism, refugee

Opening:

Leonora’s parents wanted her to be like every other well-bred English girl.

But she was not.

At the age of four, Leonora started scribbling on the walls, then on paper, and soon the pictures came flooding out….

Brief Synopsis: The biography of Leonora Carrington, an English artist who created colorful, fantasy-filled art featuring strong females.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn about surrealism and try creating your own surrealistic artwork;
  • Carrington’s art features strong females. Think of a woman that you consider strong (either someone you know or someone you’ve learned about, like a politician, actor or artist). Use your imagination to think of some objects that remind you of that woman. Draw a picture combining that female and these objects.

Why I Like this Book:

Out of this World combines beautiful text and gorgeous illustrations to tell the life of an artist who defied societal norms to follow her imagination. Markel shares that Leonora found inspiration in nature, in the legends told by her Irish grandmother, and in fantastic tales. Leonora drew from a young age, even scribbling on walls at age 4, and kept drawing, letting her imagination spill forth, throughout her life.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that she was the youngest and only female in a group of Surrealist artists in Paris early in her career. But after fleeing the Nazis and settling in Mexico, she became friends with a fellow female artist, and went on to create fantastic artwork featuring strong females. As Markel concludes, art “was a way to love the universe and understand it.”  It was also a way to share her perception that “women have special gifts; they can do things beyond anybody’s wildest dreams”, which, as Markel notes, “is marvelous, and it’s powerful, and it’s true.” I think young artists and young feminists will be inspired by this biography to follow their imaginations, wherever they may lead.

Hall’s colorful watercolor inks and gouache illustrations are filled with images that evoke those that Leonora herself created. Many are two-page spreads that act as a window into Leonora’s imagination and art.

A Note about Craft:

Markel uses words such as imagination, dreaminess, magic, fantastic, and mystical throughout the text. These terms could also be used to describe the artwork Leonora created. It makes me think that Markel viewed Leonora’s work, jotted down words that came to mind, and then used them to describe her life. Doing so helps the reader understand Leonora’s life and work better, too, and is a technique writers can use, I think, when writing non-fiction.

For an informative recent interview with Hall about the creation of Out of this World including its genesis and the challenges of depicting the life of someone whose artwork is still protected by copyright, see Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating.

Markel and Hall also collaborated on The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers/2012).

This Perfect Picture Book entry will be added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

Perfect Pairing – a Triple Treat!

It’s a special week! Not just because we celebrate a national holiday on Thursday, fire crackers and all, and not just because my music-loving son celebrates a birthday, but because for the first and maybe only time, I’m “pairing” three picture books! Strike up the band – you’re in for a triple treat!

 

God Bless America: The Story of an Immigrant Named Irving Berlin

Author: Adah Nuchi

Illustrator: Rob Polivka

Publisher/Date: Disney Hyperion/2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: biography, composer, refugee, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

An inspiring portrait of an immigrant and the gift he gave his new home.
Persecuted as Jews, Izzy Baline and his family emigrated from Russia to New York, where he fell in love with his new country. He heard music everywhere and was full to bursting with his own. Izzy’s thump-two-three, ting-a-ling, whee tunes soon brought him acclaim as the sought-after songwriter Irving Berlin. He ignited the imaginations of fellow countrymen and women with his Broadway and Hollywood numbers, crafting tunes that have become classics we still sing today.
But when darker times came and the nation went to war, it was time for Irving to compose a new kind of song:
boom-rah-rah song.
A big brass belter.
A loud heart-melter.
A song for America.
And so “God Bless America” was born, the heart swelling standard that Americans have returned to again and again after its 1918 composition.
This is the tale of how a former refugee gave America one of its most celebrated patriotic songs. With stirring, rhythmic text by Adah Nuchi and delightful, energetic art by Rob Polivka, readers will be ready to hum along to this exuberant picturebook.

Read a review in The Jewish Book Council.

Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing

Author: Nancy Churnin

Illustrator: James Rey Sanchez

Publisher/Date: Creston Books/2018

Ages: 7-12

Themes: biography, composer, refugee, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Irving Berlin came to the United States as a refugee from Tsarist Russia, escaping a pogrom that destroyed his village. Growing up on the streets of the lower East Side, the rhythms of jazz and blues inspired his own song-writing career. Starting with his first big hit, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” Berlin created the soundtrack for American life with his catchy tunes and irresistible lyrics. With “God Bless America,” he sang his thanks to the country which had given him a home and a chance to express his creative vision.

Read my review.

Write On, Irving Berlin!

Author: Leslie Kimmelman

Illustrator: David C. Gardner

Publisher/Date: Sleeping Bear Press/2018

Ages: 6-9

Themes: biography, composer, immigrant, patriotism, music, singing, Judaism

Short Synopsis (from Goodreads):

2019 Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Younger Readers 2018 Eureka! California Reading Association Honor Book Award
Escaping persecution for being Jewish, the Baline family fled Russia and arrived by ship in New York City harbor in September 1893. Little Israel Isidore Baline is only five years old. After arriving at Ellis Island, the first stop for all immigrants, Israel and his family are ready to begin a new life in America. His family settles in the Lower East Side and soon Israel (now nicknamed Izzy) starts school. And while he learns English, he is not a very good student. According to his teachers he daydreams and sings in class. But while these may not be traits that are helpful in the classroom, these are wonderful tools for a budding singer and composer. And by the time that Izzy (now known as Irving) is a young man, he is well on his way to becoming one of the most well-known composers in America. This vivid picture-book biography examines the life of Irving Berlin, the distinguished artist whose songs, including “God Bless America,” continue to be popular today.

Read a review in The Jewish Book Council.

I “paired” these books because they recount the life and music of the composer of “God Bless America”. Although all are “cradle-to-grave” biographies, and although they feature the iconic Berlin song, I loved reading the three together, as I appreciated the various nuances: Nuchi utilizes onomatopoeia to achieve musicality in the text; Churnin begins her exploration as Berlin and his family are sailing away from Russia and towards America and references Berlin’s inclusion of Jewish prayer in the melody; and Kimmelman, who also introduces the tragic scene in Russia at the outset, repeats the phrase, “God bless America” throughout the text.

And while the reason for three picture book biographies published virtually simultaneously may be the 100th anniversary of Berlin’s composition, I think it’s important to consider other aspects of Berlin’s life that resonate today, such as his status as refugee and immigrant and the important role his Jewish faith played in life and music.

I am indebted to Maria Marshall, who reviews picture books and interviews authors and illustrators at The Picture Book Buzz, for alerting me to the existence of these three biographies and for her fabulous interview with the three authors. See a wonderful review of these books by Marjorie Ingall in The Tablet.